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|Don't get complacent about breast cancer|
Let's be honest…You may not worry about breast cancer as much these days compared with the past. Thankfully, many people you know may have beaten it; in the United States alone there are over 2 million breast cancer survivors today. You think the chances of it happening to you are slim, and if it does, it won't be a big deal — but survivors of the disease, especially of late stages in the disease know differently.
The inspirational number of survivors shows how far we have come in successfully battling this killer and also highlights the importance of scheduling yearly mammograms. When breast cancer is caught at its earliest stages, the survival rate is 98 percent. This number alone should be enough motivation to get regular mammograms and other screenings.
Almost 200,000 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year with more than 40,000 fatalities from the disease. According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, in Louisiana alone, there were an estimated 2,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women in 2008, and 750 women died from the disease.
As October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is a great time to recommit yourself to your breast health, as well as remind friends and family to have their screenings.
The combination of monthly breast self-exams, yearly clinical breast exams, and regular mammograms beginning at age 40 is the best way to detect breast cancer in its earlier and most treatable stages.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation recommends the following for the prevention and detection of breast cancer:
Breast Self-Exam (BSE): Every woman should examine her breasts once a month to check for physical changes. If you are unsure of how to perform a breast self-exam, ask your health care provider to demonstrate and explain the ideal time to conduct one. It is very important for women to become familiar with their breasts and understand what feels normal. Start early, beginning at age 20.
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE): Be sure to ask your health care provider to give you a clinical breast exam each year. The exam consists of checking the breasts for any changes, lumps, or other possible warning signs of breast cancer through physical touch and appearance. You should begin having clinical breast exams in your 20's and 30's.
Mammography: Beginning at age 40, all women should have an annual mammogram. It is a good idea to have a baseline mammogram at age 35. The mammogram is an "x-ray" of the breast and is the most effective method of detecting breast changes that may be cancer, long before physical symptoms can be seen or felt.
It is also important to know that while all men and women are at risk, some women are at a higher risk. Age itself is a risk factor for breast cancer; about 77 percent of the women diagnosed are over the age of 50. Also at higher risk are women with a family history of breast cancer, women with inherited abnormal genes, women who have previously had cancer in one breast, and obese women with sedentary lifestyles.
Breast cancer is often detected in its earliest stage as an abnormality on a mammogram before it can be felt by a woman or by her health care provider. The following may occur when a cancer has grown to the point where physical signs and symptoms are present: breast lump or thickening; swelling, redness or tenderness; skin or nipple changes in color or texture; dimpling or puckering of the skin; nipple pain, discharge, scaliness or retraction; and, lumps under the armpit area. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your health care provider immediately.
Some other common sense prevention tips – that are appropriate beyond breast cancer as well – are to eat a low fat diet, exercise regularly, and not smoke. And if you suspect that you are at high risk for the disease, talk to your health care provider. With significant strides being made in prevention, there are drugs available to help thwart breast cancer for the higher risk categories.
Don't let complacency hinder you. Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer, and any screenings you should be having on a regular basis.
If you would like additional information on cancer prevention, please visit www.preventcancer.org.
Dr. Nancy Alexander is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander and is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer